A technical top 4…the best kind of top 4!
The snow was coming down hard by the early morning, but I didn’t let that stop me from brushing off my car and driving to Acton in order to play in a vintage event for the first time in months. Pandemonium in Cambridge had long since dropped weekly vintage off of their event schedule, I finished my masters last spring, got married this past summer, and I had been juggling work with phd applications this fall. All of which had left me little time and few opportunities to play. So I was not about to let a silly little snowstorm spoil my fun.
I had been trying to get a welder list ready for weeks, but finally faced the facts that the entire meta is hostile to the little guy. Between Control Slaver with maindeck Cavern of Souls plus Daretti, Scrap Savant and a fun brew with Bazaar, Squee, and Possessed Portal (basically Cerebral Assassin minus Worldgorger), I tried just about everything. But Misstep, Ballista, Revoker, and Oath all make the player trying to relive 2005 sad, so I went with another mid-2000s favorite—Gifts Ungiven. Here’s what I sleeved up after weeks of jamming on xmage:
//Business--18 1 Demonic Tutor 4 Night’s Whisper 1 Vampiric Tutor 1 Yawgmoth’s Will 1 Ancestral Recall 1 Brainstorm 1 Dig Through Time 4 Gifts Ungiven 1 Mystical Tutor 1 Time Walk 1 Tinker 1 Treasure Cruise //Control--10 4 Force of Will 2 Flusterstorm 2 Mana Drain 1 Hurkyl’s Recall 1 By Force //Misc--6 3 Baral, Chief of Compliance 1 Recoup 1 Tendrils of Agony 1 Blightsteel Colossus //Acceleration--11 1 Lotus Petal 1 Mana Crypt 1 Mana Vault 7 SoLoMoxen 1 Dark Ritual //Lands--15 1 Flooded Strand 1 Island 1 Library of Alexandria 4 Polluted Delta 1 Scalding Tarn 1 Snow-Covered Island 1 Tolarian Academy 3 Underground Sea 2 Volcanic Island //Sideboard—15 2 Tormod’s Crypt 4 Ravenous Trap 2 Pyroblast 2 By Force 2 Duress 2 Toxic Deluge 1 Echoing Truth
The idea is that turn 1 Baral into turn 2 Gifts is pretty great. Night’s Whisper for B is also solid. I cut Vault/Key because I hated drawing them and they have been weak to the maindeck Grudges and Abrades that I had been seeing in the European server xmage meta. I also chose the classic Recoup over Snapcaster Mage in order to further free up slots. I like Gifts being able to win on its own in a topdeck war as opposed to needing additional cards to create win-win piles. Most games just involve drawing lots of cards and Tendrils’ing with or without Yawgmoth’s Will along with counter back-up. Tinker-Blightsteel is mostly for matchups in which you are not allowed to durdle. I am soft to Sadistic Sacrament, admittedly, but I choose to live life on the edge. Thirteen wizards braved the elements in order to do battle. Onto the rounds!
Round 1: Tim with Team Leovold/BUG/Sultai
This was depressing. I mull’d to five, keeping Emerald, Whisper, and three non-land cards that weren’t even worth remembering. I scried into Lotus Petal. On the draw, I went all-in on the Night’s Whisper with the Emerald and Petal…which was promptly FoW’d by my opponent. I drew a land the turn after, but a Strip Mine for my Underground Sea and a Manglehorn for my Mox Emerald put me on no permanents in play and no relevant cards in hand. He slowly whittled me down with Manglehorn and Deathrite Shaman before I drew another mana source.
+2 Pyroblast, +2 Toxic Deluge, -1 Mystical Tutor, -1 Baral, -1 By Force, -1 Gifts Ungiven
Conversely, this game I am horrifically mana-flooded. He drops two Deathrites right of the gate, whereas I just have an Island, Volcanic Island, Mox Ruby, and Mox Sapphire after a Lotus was burned for a Treasure Cruise (which drew more mana). His Manglehorn destroys my Mox Jet the turn before I draw Toxic Deluge. He beats and drains me to death before I can draw another black source.
Round 2: John with Oath
This match is much better, in that my deck was actually functional. I cast a turn 1 Night’s Whisper off of a fetchland an off-color mox. He Preordains turn 1. I have no play on my turn 2, whereas he plays an Oath Druids after making his land drop—which was not an Forbidden Orchard. I could Force of Will pitching Gifts Ungiven, but I elect not to because I don’t want to pitch my only business spell to counter an Oath when he doesn’t have an Orchard. The gamble is that I can win before he can find an Orchard. I’m able to Night’s Whisper twice while he says “draw go” for two turns. At his end step, I Gifts for Ancestral, Demonic, Dig through Time, and Gifts Ungiven. I went for draw spells instead of topdeck tutors because he still had 4 cards in hand. I get Gifts and Dig. On my turn, I Dig into counters, Gifts on his end step for Will, Recoup, Lotus, Ritual, and Tendrils for lethal after I untap.
+2 Pyroblast, +2 Duress, +1 Echoing Truth, -3 Baral, -1 By Force, -1 Hurkyl’s Recall
I keep a hand with no interaction but mana, draw spells, and Library of Alexandria. Given the pace of the last game, I kept. He mulliganed down to six and kept. He played a turn 1 Oath of Druids with Mox Sapphire and Mox Emerald. I had no choice but to let it resolve and cringed, waiting for the Orchard. Instead he shrugged and passed the turn. I proceed to draw 5 cards off of Library while developing my board and casting draw spells into gas and counters while he draws and plays non-Orchard lands. I set up a massive Yawgmoth’s Will, which he Forced, I Drained. He Misdirected, and I Flusterstorm’d. I have more than enough for lethal, but I durdle a bit to find a Duress to make absolutely sure I’m not going to get wrecked by a Flusterstorm or Mindbreak Trap. The first Duress is Misstep’d, but the second reveals a clear coast. Tendrils for roughly 40 ended the match. I cast all four Night’s Whispers this game and it was wonderful.
Round 3: Matthew with Steel City Vault
I wasn’t sure what to put my opponent on after a quick and strange game 1. We both kept our opening hands—he had a turn 1 top off of Mana Crypt and I had fetches, artifact mana, Night’s Whisper, and a very dead Tendrils in hand. He is able to sculpt his hand with Top over time as I draw Force of Will and Hurkyl’s Recall. He plays a quick Tinker which I decide to let resolve—either he gets Blightsteel and I can Hurkyl’s Recall, or Time Vault/Voltaic Key into the other piece—the latter I can Force. He Tinkers up Voltaic Key. While I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, he passes the turn. I draw Mystical Tutor. I pass with no relevant plays. He tops, plays a land, and passes with 4 cards in hand. After fetching and Mana Crypt flips, he was at 13. I Mystical for Flusterstorm and am able to Tendrils for 14 on my turn with artifact mana, Hurkyl’s myself, replay artifact mana, and Tendrils with Flusterstorm backup.
I thought he was on an Outcome deck, Grixis Thieves with Vault/Key, or some other big blue grixis deck. So I boarded as such: +2 Pyroblast, +2 Duress, +1 By Force, -1 Mystical, -1 Dark Ritual, -1 Night’s Whisper, -1 Baral, -1 Gifts
My keep involves Library, Lotus, lands, Night’s Whisper, at least one other artifact accelerant and another card. He cantrips on his turn and I drop Library. He casts Wheel of Fortune after playing another land and two moxes. I was initially ecstatic because my new hand contained Yawgmoth’s Will, but his Thoughtseize spoiled my fun. To be fair, my hand was stacked—Gifts, By Force, Yawgmoth’s Will, Night’s Whisper, mana. He had to take Will, but my By Force would obliterate his mana and my Gifts could end the game in a hurry. I untapped, drew Flusterstorm, and By Force’d for 2 to take out his moxen. He played another mox and attempted to Tinker, which I countered with Flusterstorm. I Treasure Cruise’d into Recoup on my turn which enabled me to flashback Yawgmoth’s Will. My graveyard was quite ample to yield a lethal Tendrils.
Round 4: Alex with Moonless Blue Moon
Game 1 was a long drawn-out affair that took most of the round. I finally attempted to live my deck’s dream with a turn 1 Baral into fun spells…but he Lightning Bolted my Baral off a Mox Ruby and Strip Mined my Underground Sea. He cast a Dack Fayden on turn 2 or 3, which I forced. I drew into more mana, which enabled me to cast draw spells. We trade action and counters for several turns and many minutes. He managed to drop a Young Pyromancer but no follow up to generate tokens. I Gifts for value (Ancestral, Dig Through Time, Demonic, Gifts), receive Ancestral and Gifts, get my Ancestral countered with Misstep, but my second Gifts went for the kill with Yawgmoth’s Will, Recoup, Flusterstorm, Mana Drain. I had the mana to fire off the Will with counter back-up if I received the counters or to cast Will twice through a counter if I didn’t. It was able to overpower his defenses and we went into game 2 with less than 10 minutes on the clock.
Again, I wasn’t completely sure what my opponent was on, but thought he might keep in removal for Baral, so I sided as such: +2 Pyroblast, +2 Duress, -1 Mystical, -1 Dark Ritual, -1 Baral, -1 By Force
I had an unexciting keep which mostly revolved around burning Black Lotus and fetches into a quick Dig Through Time. This line was further encouraged by his turn 1 Grafdigger’s Cage. While my deck is generally trying to win via a Tinker’d Blightsteel or a Tendrils avec Yawgmoth’s Will, I’m not particularly bothered by Grafdigger’s Cage—if my opponent has no threat to pressure me with. I just draw cards and either Hurkyl’s/By Force it or set up a “Hurkyl’s myself and replay all my artifacts” line. Anyways, he casts Jace, the Mind Sculptor and I have no counter. He fateseals me and bottoms. I draw and pass. He fateseals me again (I think to win quickly in the interest of a rapidly-ticking clock). I cast an end of turn Gifts, which he casts Dig Through Time in response to, which I Dig Through Time in response to (I grab a Mana Drain and an off-color mox, I then Flusterstorm his Dig and Gifts for…I can’t remember. In any case, it’s turn 0 when I untap and I’m able to kill him with Tendrils after Hurkyl’s Recall’ing myself.
Round 5: Craig with Outcome Storm
I’m paired against the only undefeated who is locked into top 4…but the fact that there are two other 9-pointers and three 7-pointers complicates what I call “tournament math,” or the calculating of who’s in and out depending on draws and match outcomes. I leave tournament math to the experts. I may have been in the 97th percentile on my verbal GREs, but I was in the 35th percentile in math. It’s important to know your limitations. I figure that drawing doesn’t guarantee my spot in the top 4, considering we could easily have 4 players with 10 or more points—knocking one of them out. I play.
My opponent draws some insane hands that do what Outcome does. I had interaction game 1, but his Force and Defense Grid trumped it. It was a brutal pair of games. However, with the lethal Tendrils on the stack in game 2, my opponent offered me the draw and I was glad to take it. A chance at top 4 >>> no chance at top 4.
I ended up in 3rd place, good for sweet, sweet store credit after the top 4 decided to split. I bought dumb EDH cards that are too expensive for me to justify spending real dollars on.
The deck played really well when it functioned. I didn’t see any dredge at the event at all (silly 6 precautionary sideboard slots), and there was only a single shops deck (Stax, no less), so the Barals didn’t get to serve their true purpose of blanking sphere-effects. Blightsteel ended no games, but Tinker was fantastic bait and I felt good knowing that I always had a back-up plan. I love Recoup because it saves slots, makes Gifts a one-card combo, and has incidental value in letting you flashback Time Walk, Night’s Whisper, or Tinker when you draw it naturally. I’m excited to keep working on this and I’m glad that Gifts is finally viable and playable. Sorry I don’t have a more perfect memory for the purpose of turn-by-turn recounting!